Where Have All The Fathers Gone?

America is in the midst of a crisis. The results of this crisis are insidious and manifold – poverty, crime, homelessness, lack of education, drug abuse, incarceration, suicide, immoral behavior, and amoral behavior. The victims of this crisis are innocent and singular – children. And what is this crisis? It’s fatherlessness.

Study after study confirms the significantly negative impact that fatherlessness has on children specifically, and on society generally. Consider the following statistics associated with fatherless children: the high school dropout rate is 9 times the average, the suicide rate is 5 times the average, the number of homeless and runaway is 32 times the average, the number with behavioral disorders is 20 times the average, and the number in prison is 20 times the average. These statistics are heartbreaking; these statistics are shameful.

Despite its deleterious impact, the rate of fatherlessness in this country continues to rise. According to U.S. Census data, between 2002 and 2012 the number of families with children increased by 160,000, while the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. It is presently estimated that about 33 percent of the children in this country live without a father. This is in stark contrast to 1960, when only 11 percent of children lived without a father.

It’s not easy being a father. It takes dedication. It takes humility. It takes perseverance. Let’s face it. It takes courage. And so, I am proud to be a father. I am proud that my wife and I, together, raised our two children. I certainly do not believe that I was (nor am) the perfect father. I have no doubt that I made many mistakes along the way. But I did the best I could do, applying the best example of fatherhood I know. That example was the one set by my own father.

My father displayed numerous characteristics that exemplify great fatherhood, many of which influenced my own approach to fatherhood. The characteristics that most influenced me, and that continue to influence me, are his work ethic, his role as a husband, his inimitable ability to dispense grace, and his unyielding and unapologetic devotion to faith.

My father is the hardest working man I have ever known. For much of his adult life he held down two full-time jobs. He was both a full-time minister and a full-time automobile mechanic. To this day, I don’t know how he did it. Both jobs were taxing in their own right. Yet, I do not recall my father ever taking a sick day from work. Perhaps he did. But if he did, it was so few and far between that I don’t remember. Even later in his pre-retirement career, he went to work every workday.

My dad at a volunteer construction project in Poyen, AR

Now that my father is retired, he continues to work, albeit as a volunteer. But this volunteer work isn’t easy. It’s typically construction related work, at various churches and church campgrounds around the country.

At 78 years old, my father’s work ethic is unfailing. His work ethic continues to amaze. His work ethic continues to instruct.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from my father is how to be a husband. Too many parents, fathers and mothers alike, become consumed with their children, forgetting that it was their spouse with whom they vowed to remain until death. Sure, their relationships with their children flourish, but in many instances at the expense of their spousal relationship.

My father and mother - the early years
My father and mother – the early years

My father did not conduct himself that way. He always made it clear to myself and my siblings that our mother was his wife, and as such he loved her “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Yes, my father loved us. He sacrificed a lot to provide for us, and invested a lot of time into our lives. But there was never any doubt that his ultimate devotion was to his wife – my mother.

My father’s love for my mother is steadfast. His love for my mother continually increases. His love for my mother continues to amaze.

Grace. Theologically, this refers to God’s freely given, unmerited favor. Regardless who we are, regardless where we come from, regardless what we look like, regardless what we may have done, all we have to do is ask, and He will bestow His grace freely upon us, forgiving us of our sin. Christianity teaches that we should do the same. Dispense grace, that is. Unfortunately, many of us fail.

Not so with my father. There is no one I know who models God’s grace more than my father. There is no one I know who is better at dispensing grace upon others than my father. When others find fault in a person’s appearance, my father looks beyond the external, and sees the internal. When others are quick to accuse, he looks beyond weakness, and sees potential. When others stand ready to assign blame, he looks beyond the temporal, and sees the eternal.

My father’s desire to dispense grace is incomparable. His willingness to dispense grace is admirable. His ability to dispense grace is inimitable. Indeed, it is a gift. And one that continues to inspire.

I sometimes think that my father wakes up in the morning wondering who it is he is going to share his faith with today. He loves God more than anyone I know. He is so thankful for God’s grace, so thankful for his salvation, so thankful that Christ died for his sins, that he wants everyone to know. He wants everyone to experience this gift. He wants everyone to know the joy of salvation.

My dad, experiencing the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, preaching up a storm in Cuba, October 2012
My dad, experiencing the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, preaching up a storm in Cuba, October 2012

When it comes to his Christian faith, my father is, and always has been, uncompromising, unashamed, and unyielding. He has never refrained to defend his faith. He has never missed an opportunity to share his faith (shoot, many times he himself facilitates those opportunities!). He has never denied his faith. Quite honestly, I cannot even imagine him ever doing so.

My father’s faith remains steadfast. His faith continues to increase.  His faith continues to challenge.

Dad, I love you. You are an inspiration. You showed me what it means to be a man. You taught me to value my work, to love my wife as Christ loved the church, to be a generous dispenser of grace, to remain true to my faith. I am so grateful for your influence. I am so grateful for your encouragement. I am so grateful for your love.  I am so grateful for you.

Me and my dad overlooking Jerusalem, June 2013

Happy Father’s Day! Not just to my own father, but to all the men who actually are fathers. Not men who have children, but men who are fathers.

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